Diets high in fructose could damage the immune system, U.K. study finds

TORONTO — A new study out of the United Kingdom suggests that consuming a diet high in the sugar fructose may prevent proper functioning of the immune system.

According to the study conducted by researchers out of Swansea University, the University of Bristol, and the Francis Crick institute in London, the impact of diets high in fructose has been “largely unknown” until now.

“Our study is exciting because it takes us a step further towards understanding why some diets can lead to ill health,” Dr. Emma Vincent from the Bristol Medical School said in a press release.

The study, published Monday in peer-reviewed scientific journal Nature Communications, found that fructose can cause the immune system to become inflamed. Researchers say this inflammation produces more reactive molecules that can go on to damage cells and tissues, lead to disease, and cause organs or body systems to not work as they normally would.

In the study, researchers demonstrated that fructose reprograms cellular metabolic pathways to favour glutaminolysis and oxidative metabolism, which are required to support increased inflammatory cytokine production in immune cells.

“Although able to rewire their metabolic pathways upon exposure to fructose, the cells are left metabolically inflexible and vulnerable to further metabolic challenge,” the authors wrote in the study.

According to the study, fructose is commonly found in sugary drinks, candy, sweets and processed foods, and is “used widely” in food production.

The study noted that fructose is associated with obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease with low-level inflammation often being linked to these diseases.

Researchers reported that fructose intake has “increased substantially” in recent years, but said studies on its impact on the immune system have been limited.

Dr. Nick Jones of Swansea University’s Medical School said the new research brings “a deeper understanding” of how fructose could be linked to diabetes and obesity.

“Research into different components of our diet can help us understand what might contribute to inflammation and disease and what could be best harnessed to improve health and wellbeing,” Jones said in the press release.

The authors wrote that the study also builds on the evidence available to public health policy makers about the “damaging effects” of consuming high levels of fructose.

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